What’s for Breakfast?

Svay Pak river houses

Tevvy squatted down at the front door, one hand shielding her eyes, and looked down the river. Swatting a mosquito from her arm, she squinted her eyes even tighter, as if that would improve her ability to see farther. No sign of him. He’s been gone since dawn, she thought. Maybe this will be his good luck day.

The air was thick and the smell of garbage lying in the road went unnoticed, as she stepped back into the shade of the sheet metal lean-to she called her home. A quick glance through the worn mosquito netting told her that her son and daughter continued to sleep on the thin mattress in the corner of the room. Light from a small crack in the patchwork wall threw a sliver of light on her daughter’s peaceful face. Why couldn’t she have been a boy?

She searched the shelf on the wall, as if by searching, something would appear that would pass for breakfast. The shelf was bare last night when she finally sank onto the dirty sheet of the family bed. It remained bare this morning. A rice sack sat in the corner on the dirt floor, next to the cooking pot. Its folds of burlap lay in soft folds, giving away what she already knew. She picked it up and gave it a good shake over the top of the pot, just in case. A few stray grains fell into the pot – not enough to feed a rat, let alone her four-year old son.

Boiled water it is. Again. She poured some water into the pot and stoked the fire. Dropping a few precious tea leaves into the pot, she quickly re-tied the little bag and stuffed it back in her pocket as if she feared a hungry neighbor might snatch it from her. As the breakfast tea simmered, she pondered what she would do next. The children had to eat. It had been three days since they had eaten any real food. And that was one scrawny fish that her husband managed to catch.

The fishing had been particularly bad this season. The men were not sure why. Each day, they would steer their boats a little further out to sea in the hopes of finding fish. But each day, they would return with a meager catch. Once it was divided by all the men on the boat, there was little to boast about.

Tevvy was becoming desperate. Weeks, if not months, had passed and there was no money. There was no way they were going to be able to pay their bills. Her husband needed to go to the doctor. The infection in his foot was becoming very painful. She knew that there would be no visit to the doctor. They couldn’t even afford gas for the broken down Moto that lay in the yard. Three of her teeth had fallen out within the last few months. If something didn’t happen soon, they would have to move to the brick factory and the whole family would have to go to work. Tevvy’s sister was there, with her grandmother, her niece and nephew. The scars on their hands and their tired, blood shot eyes told her all she needed to know. That would be the last resort.

Grunts and groans from the corner of the room told her that another day was about to begin. Her son would cry and beg for food and she would tell him that father would be home soon and they would eat. Tears mixed with the sweat on her cheeks and she wiped her face with the hem of her skirt.

“Hello! Anyone in there?” a voice called from outside. “Yes. Who is it?” Tevvy asked, as she walked towards the opening in the wall, bright with the new day’s sun. “Does Jasmine live here? This is your good luck day! I have come to offer your daughter a great job in the city. I will give you $300 now. There will be more money later.”

Jasmine called from the bed, “What’s for breakfast mother?”

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About susansplace

Widowed in 2012, I am a mother and grandmother. Born in San Francisco, I now live in the town I grew up in: Mill Valley, California. I love nature photography. Just an amateur but that's OK! My goal: world peace. Got any ideas?
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7 Responses to What’s for Breakfast?

  1. bodyworkspt says:

    This is sad. And you tell this story so well. You’ve seen it with your own eyes and I know a piece of your heart breaks every time you think about it. Thank you for sharing this with us…and continuing to remind us that our problems are very, very small. Love you.

  2. susansplace says:

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. As I prepare to return to Cambodia in January, I realize more and more how precious our time is there and I want to do as much as I possibly can to get the word out to the world, as to the evil of human trafficking, so prevalent in Cambodia. Tevvy (a Cambodian name for Angel) is not a bad person. She is a victim. This is not who she is. This is what happened to her. One day, women and girls will be treated equally in Cambodia as well as the world. And human trafficking will be abolished. That is my prayer.

  3. Martin Chamberlain says:

    May these dreams and wishes all come true. ❤

  4. Laura Taylor says:

    I had missed this. It is so moving and tells a big story. You have such a way with language.
    lt

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